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Who Can Eat a Fruitarian Diet?

Over my past 20 years of interest in alternative nutrition, I have met a few individuals who have lived on fruit exclusively for years on end. We call them “fruitarians.” They may consume some green vegetables occasionally, but don’t make a point of doing it, so their vegetable consumption is negligible.

Their diet is composed mostly of sweet fruit, but may include non-sweet fruits as well (cucumbers, tomatoes, etc.) including fatty ones (avocados, durian, etc.).

One such fruitarian and fruit advocate is Ann Osborne, a UK native who moved to sunny Australia. Ann has been living on a fruitarian diet for over 20-25 years. I had the opportunity of meeting her and interviewing her on many occasions. She always seemed in excellent health and a positive and energetic mood. Some people criticized her for being “skinny,” but to me, she is vibrant and at a healthy, in fact, enviable body weight.

Another famous fruitarian is Essie Honiball from South Africa. This intriguing woman wrote a fascinating book called “I Live on Fruit” — a unique health manifesto that I managed to obtain years ago. In her book, she describes her early life falling ill with tuberculosis in her 30s. After being treated, she failed to regain her strength and fell into a depression. She heard about the fruitarian diet from a local author who became her husband (he died, and she later remarried), and lived on her fruitarian diet for the rest of her life, spreading the word about the positive effects of fruitarianism through her books. She died it 2013 at the age of 90. Her diet was composed of fruits, nuts, seeds and sometimes vegetables.

Essie Honibal is an interesting example because she’s the only person that I know that participated in a scientific study on the fruitarian diet. This rare study, conducted in 1971, was published in the South American Medical Journal. The researchers found her to be in “excellent health” and described how lipid profiles and glucose tolerance improved on this fruitarian diet.

I have never been able to sustain a fruitarian diet for very long, but I am nonetheless fascinated by the concept. My question has always been: are there true benefits to a fruitarian diet? Do most people fail on this diet, and why? And what about the success stories?

Fruitarianism: a Short History

Early hygienists like Silvester Graham and Dr. Kellogg mainly focused on the restorative properties of a healthy diet and an overall “clean lifestyle.” Other hygienists, such as Edward Hooker Dewey (who innovated with his no-breakfast plan) and Dr. Isaak Jennings mainly focused on fasting. Some of these hygienists were pure vegetarians while others were not. Most of them did not recommend a fruitarian diet, probably because it was not possible at that time due to the scarce supply of fresh fruit year-round to the United States in the last century.

Dr. Shelton was the man who did the synthesis of all these hygienic theories and came up with the term “Natural Hygiene.”

Shelton not only promoted fasting and natural living, like his predecessors but took the diet further by eliminating grains and replacing them with fruit. The famous “ideal” Shelton diet consisted of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds — a typical sequence of ingredients that has been used ever since by raw vegans. Although Shelton made some concessions and even used fermented dairy products at times, he was intransigent in his ban on all grain products (like bread or rice).

Shelton did not come up with that idea on his own. The concept of fruitarianism probably came from Dr. Emmet Densmore, an English doctor who published in 1890 a book called “The Natural Food of Man.”

Densmore drew on the knowledge of previous, now forgotten doctors — proving that fruitarianism has a concept has a long history.

Densmore was a sick man, and could not find relief to his lingering lumbago problems in a purely vegetarian diet. So he adopted a diet of fruits, nuts, milk, eggs, and cheese.

The book mostly contains somewhat anecdotal evidence on the harm of grain products, as evidenced by some of the quotes I pulled out below from the book.

“If cereals are so difficult to digest that they must not be used in illness, it will surely be a good idea to see how a non-starch diet will work after recovery.

It is quite true that many individuals reach middle life habitually using bread and cereals, and in apparent good health; but the race must be run before anything is proven. In my childhood I knew a neighbouring farmer who used to make daily trips, in the severely cold winters of northern Pennsylvania, to a village a half-dozen miles away, without any coat and without other clothing than the shirt he wore in summer time.

The team which he drove hauled heavy loads of wood, and this necessitated a slow pace, and the teamster followed at a slow walk. He laughed at the foolishness of his neighbours who coddled themselves in coats; and, strangely enough, he got on for years in seeming good health. Ultimately he lost his health, and died in middle life; but, while in seeming vigour, his case was no proof that his habit was not injurious; it was proof only that the powers of his system were able for a time to overcome, and not at once die from exposure.

All farmers and horsemen are aware that, while their horses are kept the year round in a stable, and fed largely on dried grains and dried grass, they are very liable to be constipated; but it is also quite universally known that as the same horses are turned out to grass, in fact as soon as they are put upon their natural food, the constipation vanishes.”

Densmore was famous for publishing the following table, which many natural hygienists have used since then.

Comparative Anatomy. The Anatomical Differences Between Flesh-Eating And Fruit-Eating Animals

The Carnivora. The Anthropoid Ape. Man. The Omnivora.
Zonary Placenta. Discoidal placenta. Discoidal placenta. Non-deciduate placenta.
Four-footed. Two hands and two feet. Two hands and two feet. Four-footed.
Have claws. Flat nails. Flat nails. Have hoofs.
Go on all fours. Walks upright. Walks upright. Go on all fours.
Have tails. Without tails. Without tails. Have tails.
look sideways. Eyes look forward. Eyes look forward. Eyes look sideways.
Skin without pores. Millions of pores. Millions of pores. Skin with pores.
Slightly developed incisor teeth. Well-developed incisor teeth. Well-developed incisor teeth. Very well-developed incisor teeth.
Pointed molar teeth. Blunt molar teeth. Blunt molar teeth. Molar teeth in folds.
Dental formula: Dental formula: Dental formula: Dental formula:
*5to8. 8.1.2103.1.8.
5to8. 8.1.2t03.1.8.
Small salivary glands. Well-developed salivary glands. Well-developed salivary glands. Well-developed salivary glands.
Acid reaction of saliva and urine. Alkaline reaction saliva and urine. Alkaline reaction saliva and urine. Saliva and urine acid.
Rasping tongue. Smooth tongue. Smooth tongue. Smooth tongue.
Teats on abdomen. Mammary glands on breast. Mammary glands on breast. Teats on abdomen.
Stomach simple and roundish. Stomach with duodenum(as second stomach). Stomach with duodenum(as second stomach). Stomach simple and roundish, large cul-de-sac.
Intestinal canal 3 times length of the body. Intestinal canal 12 times length of the body. Intestinal canal 12 times length of the body. Intestinal canal 10 times length of the body.
Colon smooth. Colon Convoluted. Colon convoluted. Intestinal canal smooth and convoluted.
Lives on flesh. Lives on fruit. Homo sapiens vegetus -Lives on fruit. Live on flesh, carrion, and plants.

* In this formula the figures in the centre represent the number of incisors; upon each side are the canines, followed to the right and left by the molars.

“Man is neither carnivorous nor herbivorous. He has neither the teeth of the cud-chewers, nor their four stomachs, nor their intestines. If we consider these organs in man, we must conclude him to be by nature and origin, frugi-vorous, as is the ape.”

Fruitarianism Spread

In one of his books, Shelton reproduced the table by Dr. Densmore and presented his case for a fruit-based diet, using somewhat more scientific arguments. He argued that humans are not designed by nature to live on grains, as evidenced by our anatomy and physiology.

Grains are acid-forming, and their consumption only as old as agriculture itself. Before that, man lived on a fruitarian diet, in a sort of “Garden of Eden.”

Although Shelton admitted that it was possible to live on fruit and nuts alone, provided you could find foods of good quality, he never promoted a pure fruitarian diet as a diet plan for life.

Instead, Shelton insistent on the importance of eating a large salad every day.

The concept of a fruit-based diet, however, became increasingly popular over the years. Most of the Natural Hygiene movement embraced it.

After a few decades, some students of Shelton wanted to improve on Shelton’s diet, complaining that his diet was too difficult to follow.

My mentor, Albert Mosséri, discovered that most people could not digest the 4-5 ounces of nuts that Shelton recommended to eat every day. So he dropped the nuts and became less strict about a pure raw food diet, and instead suggested a diet of fruits and vegetables (raw or cooked). This nut-free version of Shelton’s fruit-based diet gave better results and was easier to follow.

T.C. Fry’s Fruitarian Diet

The person who took over as the voice of Natural Hygiene after Shelton’s forced retirement through Parkinson’s disease (and eventual death) was T.C. Fry.

Fry not only wanted to eliminate nuts out of the diet but also all greens! He started out with Shelton’s plan but refined it to the point where he eventually believed and promoted a pure fruitarian diet.

In Fry’s pure fruitarian diet, he also included some vegetables that are technically fruits, botanically speaking (like tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers).

T.C. Fry’s arguments in favor of a fruitarian diet can be summarized as follows:

* Humans are physiologically fruitarians. Every animal has a natural food, and ours is fruit.
* The idea that “more is better” is a fundamental flaw of modern nutrition. It’s not necessary to eat a “large salad every day” to meet our nutritional needs.
* Fruits contain more vitamins and minerals than we could need. We don’t need vegetables.
* Vegetables, especially some greens, contain some toxic substances that can be identified by their bitter taste.

Even though Fry’s arguments were flimsy and he could not follow his diet himself (as evidenced by many reports that came out after his death), he nonetheless convinced a lot of people to go fruitarian.

The Main Fruitarian Argument Undermined by Modern Anthropology

But there’s one argument that still captures the imagination of wannabe fruitarians: the concept of humans as fruitarian creatures, who once lived on a diet of fruit.

When we look at modern apes like the chimpanzee, we find that the more genetically related the ape is to humans, the more fruit it eats. For example, gorillas, which are not that close to humans, eat mostly vegetables, while chimps prefer fruit.

Chimpanzees (and especially bonobos) live in the wild on a fruit-based diet, although they also include other food items such as ants, vegetation, and sometimes meat.

However, fruit is by far their favorite food, and they would probably eat it exclusively if they could get their hands on a plentiful, quality year-long supply.

Because we share a lot of genes with chimpanzees, it’s easy to think of humans as “more evolved chimps.”

The temptation is to think that we could go back in time, millions of years ago, to find a band of humans living in their original diet of perfect fruit, and think that we’ve somehow lost our way since then by adopting a modern diet.

But, we did NOT evolve from Chimpanzee. Instead, humans AND chimpanzee both share a common ancestor. According to recent findings, that was about 6 million years ago.

As long as humans have been “humans,” we’ve never actually lived on a fruitarian diet, or anything close to it.

Work by anthropologist Nathaniel Dominy shows that humans have mostly evolved as humans consuming reasonably large quantities of starchy foods, such as large tubers that are no longer cultivated today in most parts of the world.

We’ve adapted to this diet so that our ability to digest starch is MUCH better than that of a chimpanzee.

However, we still come from a line of creatures that were fruitarians, such as the same ancestors we share with modern apes, as well as many species that came after.

In other words:

You could not go back in time and find a tribe of ancient humans living on a pure fruitarian diets. Instead, you’d have to go back so far that the creatures you’d encounter could no longer be qualified as “homo sapiens.”
The concept of man as a fruitarian creature that once lived in the Garden of Eden is just a myth.

Our Fruitarian Framework

There’s no doubt that our digestive tract is very similar to that of other fruitarian creatures, like the chimpanzee. But it is not the same. For example:

* Humans produce several times the amount of amylase, a starch-digesting enzyme produced in the saliva.
* Chimpanzees can consume fruits that would be impossible for humans to digest. These fruits are way too astringent or sour for most people to eat. If humans tried to live on the wild chimpanzee diet, they would suffer from a permanent case of indigestion.

There’s no denying that we evolved from fruitarian species. That’s at least one argument in favor of eating more fruit, but not in favor of a pure fruitarian diet.

As I explained in my last article, there are many reasons to eat more fruit. However, when we look at the scientific evidence, it’s difficult to justify a completely fruitarian diet.

Nonetheless, many people appear to thrive on fruitarian diets for years or decades, after a period of adaptation. In my next article, I will explore these stories. In the meantime, what is your experience with the fruitarian diet? Please comment below. 


Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets.